Four tips for ranking your top art colleges

Some artists want to go commercial, parlaying their creative perspectives into enviable careers as graphic designers, illustrators, 3D animators, and leaders for the country’s most innovative employers. Others focus their efforts on contributing to the larger public dialogue of current political and social justice issues.

And there is a whole range of artistic paths in between—photographers, makers, teachers, DIY filmmakers whose indie films get picked up by mainstream streaming services. There are people for whom art is a calling to be pursued regardless of the financial reward and for whom art is an entry into a community of passionate, like-minded practitioners.

What all these people share is a dedication to the work itself and expressing their creative voice.

You have it, as well. You have a story to tell—many stories, actually—about your life, your community, the world.

Your art is a conduit for telling your stories. Your quest for personal artistic growth is a journey of exploration.

Where does your work fit into the ongoing conversations of the art world and society at large? How does it challenge and change them? What new techniques and insights will help you refine your message and how you express it?

These are the questions that consume you. And you’re searching for an art college that will help you answer them — while raising new questions that will push your creativity in new directions.

Here is a four-step checklist that will guide you on your way to finding an art college where you’ll grow as an artist.

1. Decide who you are as an artist, and who you want to be

Before you can choose an art college that aligns with your artistic perspective, your goals and ambitions, you have to figure out what those are, which isn't easy. It requires deep introspection and honesty.

Give yourself plenty of time and ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to be an artist? What does art mean to you?
  • How will you know if you are a “successful” artist? (And, how do you define “success” as an artist?)
  • How do you want your art to interact with the world? How do you want the world to interact with your art?
  • Are you drawn to one artistic medium in particular? Do you want to explore your options and perhaps take a multidisciplinary approach?
  • What are you looking for in an artistic community?

Armed with the sincere reflection that answers these questions, you can start comparing how different art colleges measure up against them. Online student review sites like are good sources of information. It’s also a great idea to chart out your self-discovery on a spreadsheet or jot them down in a notebook.

2. Start following schools on social media

You can find out a lot about a school’s ethos and campus life by the messages they put out on social media. To get the truest sense of what’s happening at a school right now, look for current students commenting about a school on Twitter or giving a glimpse of campus life in a Snapchat video, or following their recent artwork on Instagram.

This is also a good way to get clued into alumni and faculty accomplishments.

3. Check out opportunities for exhibiting work on campus

Preparing work for the public, showing it, and getting feedback is essential to the growth of any artist. As you search for your art college, focus especially on schools that offer ample opportunities to exhibit on campus.

At California College of the Arts, for example, the CCA Exhibitions program features more than 150 exhibitions, talks, and public programs each year, many with student participation. This is an integral part of the CCA curriculum, through which students gain skills in planning, preparing, and producing their art for the world.

4. Visit art colleges

There’s no substitute for actually visiting an art college yourself, getting a feel for the campus and the community, asking questions directly to faculty and students, and touring the galleries of student and faculty artwork.

(Well, a virtual tour might be a close second.)

If you’re serious about a particular art college, you might want to give yourself time to make multiple visits: first for the the “official” tour, again to get the candid opinion of current students, and maybe a third time to experience the city and the art community that surrounds the campus.